Doctor Who – Slipback
Written by Eric Saward
Transmitted 25 July to 8 August 1985
Suffering a painful hangover, the Doctor receives a psychic message that draws him to a massive spacecraft. On board, a series of mysterious killings threatens the lives of the crew while the craft’s artificial intelligence develops schizophrenia and the ship captain’s various illnesses increase to such an extent that he could will a plague upon his crew. When the Doctor and Peri are separated, Peri encounters a pair of unlikely policemen who insist that they are anything but while the Doctor bumps into their prey, a crook named Shellingbourne Grant. The Doctor soon realizes that the ship’s AI, full to the brim with knowledge of the universe from its various surveys, is disgusted with the state of existence and intends to travel back in time and cause a second big bang, wiping out reality in favor of a more structured creation. In order to save life as we know it, the Doctor must win an argument with an insane computer, dodge the police, avoid being eaten by a creature that should be extinct and stop the captain of the Vipod Mor from recreating the black death. Just another day for the Doctor, then.
Filling in the 18 month gap between Revelation of the Daleks and Trial of a Time Lord, Slipback is a strange experiment in radio drama for the long running science fiction program. With Big Finish Productions currently wearing a laurel of over a hundred and fifty audio dramas of Doctor Who alone, Slipback is difficult to judge in comparison. A somewhat stilted affair, the six part format is an awkward fit, resulting in some weird cliffhangers (the Doctor screaming ‘NOOOOOOO!’ when he realizes the ship computer’s plan being one) and plenty of padding.
The performances are varied, with Colin Baker showing his acting capacity in the lighter comedic moments as well as the heavy dramatic ones, winning his place as the Doctor even back in 1985 when he was still a relative newcomer to the part. Nicola Bryant fares less well as Peri, but given that she was still very new to the profession and likely had never acted on radio, you can’t hold it against her. Valentine Dyall (familiar to Whovians as the Black Guardian during the Fifth Doctor’s time) is splendid. This performance is sadly shortly before he passed on and he was in very bad health at the time. Both Jon Glover and Jane Carr are treasures to the production, their vocal talents bring Saward’s script to vibrant life.
A veteran of screen and radio, Saward’s script is a bit of a mess, unfortunately. It is firmly embedded in the various Saward-isms of the period; dark humor, absurd situations and plenty of violence. Many have compared Slipback to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy due to the doddering space policemen who seem to be ripped directly from its pages, but in truth Slipback is far stranger due to the character of the Doctor. With Douglas Adams’ work, there is the comfort of a likable (if ineffectual) hero, but the Sixth Doctor is so alien and unpredictable that he hardly brings a feeling of safety. Definitely one of the moire brilliant and forthright incarnations of the Doctor, one often gets the impression that he may not be on our side after all. When it becomes clear that he is the only force between life and death on such a galactic scale, it becomes very tense indeed.
An odd experiment that kept the fires burning for Doctor Who fandom, Slipback is often forgotten these days as it is neither part of the classic TV program nor is it part of the more recent Big Finish line of audios. Nevertheless, it is still finding fans as this animation shows:
Since his time on air, Colin Baker’s irascible Sixth Doctor has found a new legion of followers, hungry for more material. While it may not be his finest hour story-wise, Slipback should be included in that list of books, audios and such, along with the following: